Networking & Helping Others
Dharmesh Shah wrote a post last week titled Don't Always Be Closing that got me thinking about a fundamental mistake that many people make in their approach to networking. Dharmesh's point is that he grows tired of constantly feeling like people are trying to sell him something and that he appreciates getting to know people and having interesting conversations that aren't necessarily motivated by a desire to close the next deal. I think what Dharmesh is describing is the feeling of being used and the "what can you do for me" approach to networking definitely leads many similar feelings.
My approach to networking is to focus on what I can do for the other person. In some cases there isn't anything I can do for the other person but everybody could use a hand somewhere and most people seem to appreciate the effort regardless of the results. I find that I build trust and get to know people better by trying to help them. Additionally, the approach gets easier over time because the better I get to know people the more I understand what they need. Having a growing group of contacts who's needs I understand makes it easier for me to make valuable connections when I meet someone new. Furthermore, If I can connect someone old with someone new than I build trust and good will with both people. This means that by focusing on how I can help whomever I've just met, I often wind up helping two people.
Taking the longer term approach of building trust and good will by helping others is what has allowed me to build relationships where by others are genuinely willing to help me.